Rutgers embarrasses itself yet again
So that's it. Julie Hermann filibusters and dodges and deflects for some 780 seconds before reporters gathered outside Rutgers' athletic facility Wednesday, and it's game, set, match made in heaven.
A scandal-scarred university is going forward with its scandal-scarred athletic director-to-be, and Rutgers president Robert Barchi declares that "Julie and her team will set the stage for a great transition" into the Big Ten, which should be positively thrilled.
The conference had a conspicuous hole on its roster that Barchi can perfectly fill now that Ohio State president Gordon Gee has decided to retire his polka-dot pajamas, big red nose and floppy shoes.
It would've been funny to hear Hermann describe her turbulent experience as the University of Tennessee's volleyball coach as one that made her "uniquely qualified" for Rutgers if it wasn't so scary. She actually believes a coach accused by an entire team of calling her players "whores, alcoholics and learning disabled" is the ideal fit for a university that employed a men's basketball coach, Mike Rice, recently fired for verbally and physically abusing his team.
"It was heartbreaking to hear the voices of these people," Hermann said of those grown-up volleyball players who wrote a letter 17 years ago stating that their coach had inflicted the kind of "mental cruelty" that caused them "unbearable" suffering.
It was heartbreaking until Hermann decided to dismiss those women as liars.
"I'm not a name caller," she claimed.
This she-said, they-said scandal has always been a blowout: A woman with plenty to gain -- the high-powered job out of her Division I dreams -- says one thing, and more than a dozen women with nothing to gain all say another. That's not a jump ball. That's a reason to jump to the obvious conclusion Julie Hermann might be the worst possible person for this job.
"I think it's crazy they're actually going ahead and hiring her," one respected Division I coach in the tri-state area said after Hermann's 13-minute news conference. "You look at Baylor [in 2003], where a basketball player was murdered by a teammate and the coach [Dave Bliss] falsely portrayed the murdered kid as a drug dealer to cover up violations. Baylor hired Ian McCaw, the AD from UMass, and McCaw was as clean as they come.
"Rutgers had to hire the Dalai Lama here, someone whose track record was just as clean, and instead they hired someone who isn't credible. Hermann's first official act at Rutgers was a lie. There's no way an entire team writes a letter like that, or even just has a meeting without the letter, and you don't remember it. Every coach I know would remember the details of that meeting for the rest of their careers. You walk out, quit, never coach again, and you don't remember that? It's just not believable."
But a lot of things at Rutgers aren't believable, like Hermann's predecessor, Tim Pernetti, failing to realize Rice had to be fired the moment the AD saw the videotape of the coach's conduct in practice. Or like Barchi going months without bothering to view the tape of his students being abused by a high-profile employee of a taxpayer-funded school.
Or like hiring Eddie Jordan as Rice's replacement, and inserting an undergraduate degree into the new guy's bio that Jordan hadn't earned. Or like ignoring Hermann's role in sex discrimination lawsuits at Tennessee and Louisville, where she landed as executive associate AD.
"When you work in athletic administration where coaches are hired and fired," the Division I coach said, "lawsuits are not surprising. People will often sue when they get fired to try to reach a settlement. But the fact that there was an unfavorable jury verdict in Hermann's past should've been an eye opener for Rutgers."
That jury awarded $150,000 to an assistant volleyball coach at Tennessee who said she was fired for getting pregnant. "I don't agree with the outcome of that jury," Hermann said, "but everybody [at Rutgers] was aware of it."
Why in the world would Rutgers accept Hermann's version of the story -- the assistant was fired for poor performance, not for getting pregnant -- when an impartial jury of her peers didn't accept her version?
Nobody has provided a good answer to that question for a simple reason: There isn't one. Kate Sweeney, co-chair of the Rutgers search committee, ran a fast break with her handpicked candidate and ran the school straight into another brick wall.
Wednesday, Hermann met with Barchi and Rutgers coaches and student-athletes, and with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, before putting the brief back in her news briefing. She told reporters gathered outside the school's Hale Center that the calls for her ouster (and Barchi's) in the wake of the Star-Ledger report on her past were "tough for everybody on campus." Hermann admitted going through "a difficult time" with her Tennessee volleyball team, and that as a young coach she may not have been "equipped to manage a lot of what we were managing at the time."
Her student-athletes clearly weren't equipped to deal with their coach's alleged abuse, as they still feel the scars today. But now Hermann believes the mismanagement of her team makes her "uniquely qualified" to run an athletic department that has seen enough mismanagement to last a lifetime.
She said she wants to develop the kind of student care system she developed at Louisville, and that if she can help Rutgers' athletes have the kind of life-shaping experience she enjoyed as a University of Nebraska volleyball player, "I'll deal with a national embarrassment."
Everyone at her new school will have to deal with the national embarrassment now. Julie Hermann officially takes office a week from Monday. Of all the implausible things that have happened at Rutgers over the past couple of months, nothing quite measures up to that.